No word yet on whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has read or responded to his American friend Dennis Rodman’s Twitter plea to release Kenneth Bae, but we’re crossing our fingers the NBA legend’s personal efforts at diplomacy will somehow make a difference for the Lynnwood tour operator who’s been imprisoned since last November.
Rodman’s response Tuesday to my blog post last Friday asking him to exercise some “basketball diplomacy” has been picked up by news outlets around the world, including CNN, Foreign Policy, Sky News and The Times of London. Who knows if Rodman’s Twitter post to Kim Jong Un, whom he calls a “friend for life,” will be effective. I do know traditional diplomacy between government officials isn’t working too well (and the U.S. has no intention of formalizing relations with North Korea).
The New York Times reports North Korean officials are rejecting the notion they are using Bae as a “bargaining chip” or seeking a visit from a high-level American envoy. I have my doubts, but let’s attempt to take the politics out of this whole debacle and give the flamboyant Rodman a chance to work his charms for a peaceful outcome.
ICYMI, here’s Rodman’s original tweet:
I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him “Kim”, to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.
— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
Perhaps Kim Jong Un wants to save face as leader and prove he can be reasonable? OK, then someone he likes and respects needs to tell him there’s no benefit to keeping Kenneth Bae detained in a hard labor camp for 15 years. North Korea’s interests will be best-served by sending the man home on humanitarian grounds, as the current leader’s father, Kim Jong Il, did for previous American detainees.
Last week Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that her brother — a husband and father of three — has made frequent trips into North Korea from China without incident. Chung told Cooper he may have tried to feed orphans, but she is certain he meant no harm to the country. She revealed the family has only spoken to Bae once since he was detained six months ago.
“We just worry about my brother getting caught in between the political nature of this process, and we just pray and ask for leaders of both nations to please, just see him as one man caught in between,” she said during the May 2 interview. “We just ask that he be allowed to come home.”
Watch Terri Chung’s CNN appearance here:
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The eccentric NBA hall-of-famer claims he developed a bond with Kim Jong Un after he traveled to North Korea in March with a Vice production team for an upcoming HBO documentary. At the time, The New York Times’ Brian Stelter wrote about the crew’s unprecedented access and the North Korean first family’s devotion to basketball and the Chicago Bulls.
I know it all sounds ridiculously simple, but let’s take advantage of this common interest in the NBA as a tool to ease tensions in the region and to learn more about Bae’s imprisonment.